Out of the Darkness Walk finds new home at School Street Park

8/31/2017 | Chris Maza

Category: September 2017

Agawam Mayor Richard Cohen helped members of the Out of the Darkness Walk team celebrate its move to School Street Park.
Reminder Publications submitted photos

Now in its 16th year, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Greater Springfield Out of the Darkness walk has a new home in School Street Park.

The walk, which is slated for Oct. 21, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., is one of the principal fundraising and awareness efforts put on by the AFSP’s local chapter in Western Massachusetts and has steadily grown in a decade in a half.

The event originally took place at the Springfield Jewish Community Center before outgrowing that location and moving on to the MassMutual Center where it experienced immense success. But as Heather White, area director for Western Massachusetts and Vermont explained, a move to a new location was necessary for a number of reasaons.

“We just felt it was time to put ourselves on the same playing field as some other nonprofit charitable walks. Our cause is just as relevant and affects just as many families and people as other large fundraising events,” she said. “It was just too big to be on city streets and crossing large intersections and things like that. We wanted to find a more open and outdoor space where we could grow our offerings to our walkers and we could have an opportunity to spread out in the beautiful outdoors.”

In identifying a new location for the walk, School Street Park’s location was also a major draw.

“We loved the location being just 2 ½ miles from the MassMutual Center,” White said. “The convenient location meant a lot to us because we have a lot of walkers from all over Greater Springfield.“

School Street Park, White explained, offered “unlimited possibilities to add new and exciting elements that we just couldn’t do” within the MassMutual Center.

“We love the facilities,” White said.

Among the feature most special to White was the Garden of Angels, which she said would be incorporated into the walk. With the assistance of a local florist, walkers will be able to take a white carnation into the Garden of Angels and take time for reflection. The carnations can be left on the wall or kept.

“When I learned about the garden, I just had this sense that we’re supposed to be here,” White said. “We love that we can incorporate that element into our walk and into our day.”

The School Street Park playground also allowed for the inclusion of children and youth activities put on by The Garden: A Center for Grieving Children and Teens.

“Often we do see young families. Suicide affects everyone of every age,” White said.

With the outdoor venue , the AFSP was also able to expand its Paws for Prevention aspect of the walk. Participants can bring their four-legged friends and register them to walk for $10 in order to receive a bandana, treat bags and a raffle ticket for a basket of pet-friendly goodies.

The Western Mass Rocks Project will also be on hand, giving walkers the opportunity to decorate a rock and leave it on the course for someone else to find or take home as a memento.

“People are encouraged to write something inspirational or draw something that means something to them,” White said.

As always, information on loss and healing resources will be provided, as well as local counseling and a “free hugs table” where mental health clinicians and assistants will be available in a support role.

“It can be a very emotional day for folks,” White said.

Registration is up and running and it has been successful thus far. Those interested in participating may do so by visiting AFSP.org/greaterspringfieldma .

“We are very optimistic and it is solidifying our belief that we made the right choice with School Street Park,” White said. “We’re well ahead of last year and we’re looking forward to a big year. We think we could possibly break 1,000 walkers and $100,000 raised.”

Those who cannot attend the  walk may still register as a “virtual walker” in order to raise funds.

The Western Massachusetts AFSP chapter is always seeking new volunteers as well.

“We’re a dedicated group, but a small group, so we’re always looking for new people and new places to hold trainings and informational programs,” White said.

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